SOME REALLY NICE PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITIES never get to attend worship services. Yes, they would like to worship with us, but they cannot get through the doors of the church. And it’s not their fault. Let me explain.
Some Churches Unprepared
Five years ago while working with Union Mission Ministries in Norfolk, Virginia, my wife and I drove to a large, Baptist church in the area for a service. What a disaster. We literally could not find a way for me to get into the sanctuary of the building. You see, I have a form of Muscular Dystrophy (MD), and at that time, though walking with the use of crutches, I could not climb steps.
When we asked a member of the congregation if there was an entrance that would be more conducive, he replied, “No, but if you come back in a couple of years, we are collecting money for an elevator.”
Fortunately, another member of our team was presenting the message that day, and I was just support staff.
So what did we do? The only thing we could do. My wife and I got back in our van and went home.
Is that what you want wheelchair-bound visitors to do when they visit your church...come back later? Not only am I glad I was not the speaker that day, but I am certainly glad I was not dependent on that service to hear the gospel for the first time.
Picture a lost person at the Great Judgment saying, “But, Lord, I tried to attend church. They told me to come back in two years.”
The Waipahu Difference
Thankfully, not all stories are so grim. While working with Waipahu FWB Church in Hawaii, I had a much more pleasant situation. A dear friend passed by the church one day as I struggled to climb the entry steps. The next day he and his neighbor visited the pastor and volunteered to build a ramp if the church would pay for the supplies. Upon completion, not only was it much easier for me to walk up the ramp, but on that first Sunday two elderly ladies who had been unable to attend our services (both in wheelchairs) came to church.
A year ago I went to Manchester, Tennessee, to hear my former pastor J.D. Norris (who gave me the title “Rolling Deacon”) speak at homecoming services. Please understand that for the past four years I have been using a power wheelchair. But that was no problem in Manchester. The building was easy to get into, and I was soon sitting in a wide aisle next to my wife.
An usher came to me in a very discreet manner, offered whatever assistance I might need, and advised me where the wheelchair-accessible restroom was located. To that usher and that congregation, I say, “Bravo!”
Five Tips That Open Doors
Here are five suggestions for congregations who want to make their churches accessible to everyone in the community:
Have a ramp or a designated door at ground level. The ramp could be portable, but make sure that ushers are prepared and watching.
Clear space in the seating area that allows a wheelchair to be out of the way and not blocking passage—perhaps a shortened pew.
Be sure that church doors are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
Make at least one restroom wheelchair-accessible with wide doors, passages, and support bars where needed.
Train ushers and greeters to offer discreet assistance (no one likes to
So what’s your answer to that irritating question? Are your church doors wide enough? They can be. They should be. They will be…if you give the extra effort in the places that matter—the places that provide equal and easier access.
Wayne Spruill (aka the Rolling Deacon) is director of institutional research at Free Will Baptist Bible College. He was student body president in 1970-71 and graduated from FWBBC in 1972. Wayne has served in management positions from Virginia to Hawaii with Randall Bookstore, Zondervan Family Bookstores, Red Wing Shoe Company, and Union Mission Ministries. He is a member of Cofer’s Chapel FWB Church in Nashville.